Choosing Speaker Wire

The time may come when you have to choose speaker wire, whether you're putting together a custom surround sound system or you just need more cable than your system in a box includes. Why is some speaker wire more expensive than others? What's a gauge? If you're a new audio enthusiast, you may not be familiar with the ins and outs of speaker wire selection. Here is everything you need to know about choosing speaker wire.

Select the Right Gauge
The numbers that measure a speaker wire's thickness are referred to as the gauge. The lower the number, the thicker the speaker wire. If you're running the speaker wire over long distances, you'll need a thicker wire to maintain good sound quality. This is equally important if you have a high-power system. If you're running your speaker wire less than 60 feet with a moderately powered system, 16-gauge speaker wire is a good choice. For 60 to 120 feet, or a high-powered system on a shorter run, go with 14-gauge speaker wire. If you need to run more than 120 feet or have an extremely powerful system, choose 12-gauge speaker wire.

Look for the Correct Rating
Gauge is only one aspect of choosing speaker wire. If you're running your speaker wire through the walls, you need to consider the rating of your speaker wire. Because running wire through the walls presents possible fire hazards, it's vital to get speaker wire rated CL2 or CL3. Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) issues these ratings and considers how the wire handles heat and fire, as well as how well the wire stands up to potential sources of damage. If you run speaker wire through the walls without a CL2 or CL3 rating, you're exposing yourself to a possible fire hazard, as well as possible building-code violations. Using substandard wire could also prevent you from making a homeowners insurance claim if a fire does break out.

Speaker Wire Length
Calculating speaker wire length is fairly straightforward. Measure every leg of your speaker wire journey, from the back of the amp to the wall, ceiling or floorboard where you intend to run it, along the path you've chosen around the room and eventually to where you'll place your speakers. If you don't want to measure each step separately, run a piece of string where you intend to run your speaker wire and measure the string when you've finished laying it out. Give yourself four feet to run the speaker wire from the amplifier to the wall and at least two feet from the wall to the speaker. Once you've measured your route, add an extra 15% to your total in case you run into unexpected difficulties and need to alter the path of your speaker wire. Avoid stretching your speaker wire extremely taut or running it around sharp corners, as that can damage the internal wire and cause a loss of sound quality.

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